In the first round, every candidate was asked what their top priority issue is, and about the #1 thing they’d do in the state senate. The answers were quite uniform:
- Top issue: Jobs.
What would you do in the Senate: Oppose cuts in Local Aid.
Below, the topics of the questions asked, and some notes (often brief) about what I noticed about the candidates’ answers.
Q: In state tuition bill.
Sal DiDomenico: Says he supports the bill, but it’s time to compromise so we can finally get it passed. To do so, the bill needs to add language about “displacement” – that will quiet some of those who are nervous about it.
Dan Hill: Would support the bill if it required a citizenship process for those who make use of it.
Tim Flaherty: Gave a spirited defense of the bill as-is.
Michael Albano: In addition to a strong defense of the bill, he also talked about some of the tension between old-immigrant and new-immigrant communities in the district that this bill connects to. Objected to DiDomenici’s suggestion.
Q: Election reform priorities
Tim Flaherty: Instant Runoff Voting, Election Day Registration, and Clean Elections
Dennis Benzan: Also IRV, EDR, and Clean Elections. He explained what IRV is to the audience, which I found odd, since this was an audience of politically-interested people in Cambridge, which uses preference voting for its municipal elections.
Dan Hill: Seemed surprised this question was asked, and said this is the least important issue. Joked about supporting clean elections but talked about a much narrower and more specific election funding reform. Unfortunately I no longer recall what it was, except that I remember thinking it was relatively insignificant.
Denise Simmons: IRV and EDR. Used some language that seemed evasive about Clean Elections, and didn’t directly state support for it.
Michael Albano: This is one of the most important reasons he’s running – to break down our system of incumbency protection. He would give up his seat if he could get Clean Elections, Election Day Registration, Redistricting Reform, and allowing 17 year olds to vote in state elections. Also, he believes our special election cycles are much too short, and this also favors incumbents (who are advancing to the next higher office).
Sal DiDomenic0: EDR, IRV, Weekend voting, clean elections, and vote by mail. Agreed with Albano about specials.
Q: Park land
Denise Simmons: Talked about the Charles River Conservancy.
Dan Hill: Decried the recent Dept of Environmental Protection ruling on rivers. Wants to make the proposed drain permit regulations, a law.
Everyone else: talked about the Charles River.
Tim Flaherty: also pointed out that the Mystic River is in district.
Q: You all have similar positions. How will you make things happen?
Dan Hill: Talked up his experience as an environmental attorney.
Dennis Benzan: A Cambridge native, from a poor background, understands the community and has been here, working for it, for many years.
Michael Albano: Created the first affordable housing fund in Chelsea, while serving on its planning board. Has lots of campaign experience – worked on Paul Hodes campaign in NH, was on Pat Jehlen, Denise Provost, and Sonia Chang-Diaz’s campaigns in MA. Ran his father’s campaign for state senate, which I think he said was the only time a write-in got elected to state senate in MA history.
Separately, Albano took this opportunity to state that he’s opposed to the big casino gambling bill, and none of the other candidates would address it (indeed, I don’t remember any of them mentioning it).
Sal DiDomenico: Said he worked on the CORI bill which passed. Talked up his access to people with power in Beacon Hill, which will help him get things done.
Tim Flaherty: Talked up his experience as a prosecutor.
Denise Simmons: Made a clever reference to being the only woman by saying that while it’s true that she’s the only woman in the race, she doesn’t think that’s why you should vote for her 🙂 Why you should vote for her is her proven track record of having gotten things done. She listed a bunch: got green jobs to Cambridge, empowered youth, more resources for safe streets, the “Buy Cambridge” initiative… after each one, she repeated her refrain, “got that done!”.
Q: Raise the income tax! (this was the question I submitted)
Dennis Benzan: We need to go through the budget, and be efficient. Cut waste. Talked about pension reform.
Michael Albano: This should be a progressive litmus test! We need a progressive income tax; a regressive sales tax is wrong!
Sal DiDomenico: His answer was basically the same as Dennis Benzan’s.
Tim Flaherty: Said he agrees with Albano, though didn’t seem enthusiastic about it. Also talked of raising the gas tax.
Denise Simmons: Suggested budget cuts, and the need to assess the effectiveness of each of our programs.
Dan Hill: Find efficiencies in government. Spent most of his time talking about one example: centralizing several different legal services departments we currently have. I think he said this could save $44 million, though it might’ve just been $4 million.
*Since this was my question, I’ll add some thoughts at the bottom of the post.
Q: Soliciting input from constituents
Michael Albano: Put the State Senate on TV. Also, we’ve failed at making constituents aware of the accomplishments of state government, and we need to trumpet those more.
Sal DiDomenico: Agreed with Albano about putting Senate on TV. Talked about doing constituent communications in Everett.
Tim Flaherty: Be active, talk to people, go to meetings, be available 24×7, answer the phone, respond in person.
Denise Simmons: She’s been walking the talk for 32yrs, really staying in contact with her constituents, every year, not just at election time. Repeated that she has a “proven track record”.
Dan Hill: Says he as a commitment to constituent services.
Dennis Benzan: He’s a trained community organizer, and an attorney.
Q: Health care, specifically the governor’s proposal to put caps on premium increases
Sal DiDomenico: Supports the caps. Importing drugs from Canada and Mexico is a good thing.
Tim Flaherty: Supports the caps. To reduce costs, offer loan forgiveness to med students as an incentive to go into general practice rather than specialties. Too many specialists drives costs up.
Denise Simmons: Health care is a right. When the Cambridge Health Alliance closed clinics, she worked hard and managed to save two of them. Need to keep working to preserve services.
Dan Hill: Need to control costs; look at the good aspects of HMOs.
Dennis Benzan: Supports the caps. DC is failing at reform because they’re not telling people’s stories. He will tell our stories.
Michael Albano: DC is failing because of lobbying. We are at the wrong end of the health care business: the government (the taxpayers) pays, and insurance companies collect. We need to get into that end of things! With a public option, or single payer.
Q: Something about an equal shared parenting bill
Tim Flaherty: Not familiar with bill. His experience says, avoid getting tangled in probate court 🙂 Probate court generally looks for the best interest of the child.
Denise Simmons: Not familiar with bill. Supports keeping families whole.
Dan Hill: The probate system works. There’s an organization of parents who feel mistreated. He’d listen to them.
Dennis Benzan: Family law is personal and difficult. Shared custody is important for a health environment for the child, and he supports shared custody.
Michael Albano: Shared custody is good if both parents are fit. A surprising
number of people have been talking to him about fathers’ rights, so there may be some problems in the law that are unfair to fathers. Worth looking into.
Sal DiDomenico: Supports the bill. The key word is “fit” parents. He will address fathers’ rights.
Q: What Committee assignments do you want?
Denise Simmons: Elderly Affairs, Education, Economic Development
Dan Hill: Housing – wants to expand on Chapter 40b. Also Natural Resources.
Dennis Benzan: Ways & Means, to work on the budget. Higher Education. Judiciary, to work on CORI.
Michael Albano: Economic Development – it’s an emergency! Education – he doesn’t like recent reforms, liked his dad’s reforms in the 90s. And Rules Committee – current legislative process is byzantine, makes it hard for citizens to know what’s going on.
Sal DiDomenico: Education, Economic Development, Municipalities
Tim Flaherty: Economic Development, and wants to chair Judiciary and vice-chair Substance Abuse, so he can reform mandatory minimum sentences.
- Tim Flaherty: Cambridge roots and a commitment to Cambridge. A prosecutor who fought for those who needed a voice when lives were at stake. A progressive who can win.
- Denise Simmons: Has the most experience, and has delivered: on jobs, on education, on small businesses, on civic engagement.
- Dan Hill: Not a career politician, not beholden to the special interests.
- Dennis Benzan: Has been in the community since he was young, helping families and their children, and he’s going to tell their stories. He’s gotten results, and his support is diverse.
- Michael Albano: Scott Brown’s election was a wake up call! We need to stop playing it safe, it makes progressives vulnerable. Everything is at risk now, and it’s time for progressives to stand up and fight. As a kid from east Somerville, he’s not afraid of a fight 🙂 He will fight the influence of money on politics, and will fight to lift up our economy.
- Sal DiDomenico: A Cambridge native. Focus on jobs, local aid, education. He’s not a fancy talker, but he can win, and he can get things done.
Some personal observations
Dan Hill talked so much about “special interests” as our biggest problem, that I was very surprised at his lack of interest in election reform, and especially his missing several obvious opportunities to state support for clean elections, which says to me that he opposes clean elections and wanted to avoid the issue.
I felt insulted by many of the answers to my question about the need to raise the income tax. Several candidates just spoke about finding efficiencies in the budget or reducing waste. Come on! The Patrick administration has been working hard on that for several years. What makes them think they can do so much better at it, to find much greater savings? And while efficiencies and clever ideas to save some money here and there are great, if I ask a multibillion dollar question and you give me a few million dollar answer, you’re not serious. You’re avoiding the issue, which is exactly what the majority of people already on Beacon Hill have been doing.
I asked Dennis Benzan about this privately later, and he said that he likes the idea of a progressive income tax, but it’s a long term solution because it requires a constitutional amendment. I pressed him to suggest some interim solutions, then, but he didn’t say raising the current income tax is one of them. He also didn’t mention that the income tax is already more progressive than other taxes, even without an amendment, and that we can increase the personal exemption when we raise it to make it more progressive.
Sal DiDomenico’s answer about the in-state tuition bill seemed, to me, like a cop-out, so I asked around about that too. I was told that at a forum in another part of the district, he’d given a somewhat different answer, that signaled that he sympathized with the bill’s opponents. Here in Cambridge he couldn’t do that, so he reframed his support for the opposition’s arguments as a strategy to pass the bill (by significantly weakening it). Overall, DiDomenico’s message seemed to be “vote for me because I’m well-connected”.
Dan Hill just seemed generally unfamiliar with most legislative issues, except for the few things he’s looked at in detail. His attitude on election reforms really turned me off, and he sealed that opinion with his answer to the income tax question.
After the closing statements, the woman next to me asked what I thought, and I told her that one candidate clearly stood out for me. She asked who, and I asked her to tell me her opinion first, so she told me Michael Albano stood out for her. I agreed, and she said she wasn’t surprised I picked him too (note: we didn’t know each other). I asked what she liked about him, and the first thing she said was that he seemed very strong.
Overall, I’d be delighted if Michael Albano were to win, and I donated to his campaign shortly after the forum.
I would be satisfied with Denise Simmons.
I would be very unhappy if Dan Hill or Sal DiDomenici got it.